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July, 2010

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

July, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Research unveils next generation of WorldWide Telescope at 11th Annual Faculty Summit

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    Great discoveries are often the result of collaboration, and for three days this week, during the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2010, more than 350 attendees representing various universities, industries, and governmental agencies are gathering to combine forces. Participants will be looking to foster collaboration that advances research, inspires technological innovation, enhances the educational experience and cultivates the next generation of thought leaders.

    Held at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. and hosted by Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research, the summit will feature the introduction of new technologies focused on space exploration as well as the announcement of the winners of the 2010 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship grants, which provide $1.4 million in funding each year to support professors who are exploring high-impact research that has the potential to help solve some of today's most challenging problems.

    The theme of this year's summit, Embracing Complexity, aptly describes the work underlying the new Terapixel technology in the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope. Terapixel is the largest, seamless, spherical map of the sky ever created. It will provide scientists with the ability to navigate through space dynamically to make their own discoveries. Created from data provided by the Digitized Sky Survey-a collection of thousands of images taken over a period of 50 years by two ground-based survey telescopes--Terapixel offers a complete, panoramic rendering of the night sky that, if displayed at full size, would require 50,000 high-definition televisions to view. Terapixel draws on the power of the Trident workflow workbench and the DryadLINQ interface for .NET to combine thousands of images and systematically remove differences in exposure, brightness, and color saturation.

     

    The clearly tiled view of a portion of the night sky (left) is rendered seamless by the Terapixel smoothing process (right). (Photo courtesy of the DSS Consortium)

    Another of the summit's intriguing presentations showcases how Microsoft Research and NASA will enable people to use the WorldWide Telescope to explore Mars virtually via a 3-D rendering of the surface of the planet and take interactive tours with noted NASA scientists James Garvin and Carol Stoker. This capability is the result of the Space Act Agreement signed by Microsoft and NASA in 2009 to inspire the next generation of astronomers to continue to pursue scientific discovery.

     

    A stunning new image of Mars now available in the WorldWide Telescope. (Photo courtesy of Microsoft|NASA)

    All of us at Microsoft Research are pleased to have the opportunity to welcome some of the world's most renowned thought leaders, working together to envision the advances of tomorrow.

    Please visit our Faculty Summit homepage the next few days, where we will bring you more information about WorldWide Telescope, the 2010 Faculty Fellows, and ongoing event news and coverage.

    Tony Hey, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Biology Foundation Available for Free Download

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    On July 10, in Boston, the External Research division of Microsoft Research will introduce the Microsoft Biology Initiative, resources designed to help biological scientists and programmers conduct research more efficiently and affordably. These include the first post-beta release of the Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF), a language-neutral bioinformatics tool kit built as an extension to the Microsoft .NET Framework. In addition to a new genome assembler, performance enhancements, and other improvements, MBF builds upon the vision and goals that drove the development of the beta versions. Those included a commitment to community involvement, extensibility, cross-platform and interoperable functionality, language neutrality, and support for best practices. While there are other libraries of biological functionality available, MBF supports universally accepted standards of the bioinformatics community and implements a range of unique functionality derived from original Microsoft research. The code for MBF and supporting documents is available on CodePlex[RK1].

    Like MBF itself, the audience during the 11th annual Bioinformatics Open Source Conference, held in conjunction with the 18th annual International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology, represents a powerful combination of technology and biology. To harness technology in support of biological discovery, MBF implements parsers for common bioinformatics file formats and algorithms used to manipulate DNA, RNA, and protein sequences. In addition, it provides a set of connectors to biologial Web services, such as the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool, as well as a utility that enables scientists to view their data within Excel easily and quickly.

    From its core technology to the free availability of the code on which it is built, MBF is the result of collaboration between Microsoft Research and industrial and academic partners, with the aim of building the tools scientists need to pursue biological research. With Microsoft .NET as its base, MBF makes it easier for developers to leverage current technologies, with thousands of functions and a common code base that can be accessed and used with great flexibility.

    One of the areas in which MBF is particularly valuable is the field of genomics, which has experienced tremendous advances since the human genome first was sequenced a decade ago. A full understanding of the human genome offers great potential for advances in health care. To reduce the computational complexity of reconstructing the the whole genome, MBF includes a new whole-genome-assembly algorithm, PaDeNA (Parallel de Novo Assembler). PaDeNA has the potential to reconstruct the DNA sequence of a patient rapidly from huge volumes of experimental data, the first step in using the genome in health care. While PaDeNA is provided freely as a part of MBF, it is designed to be modular and is fully documented, enabling experimental biologists and software developers to tweak the basic algorithm and add features to meet the needs of their research.

    Another example of MBF at work is the research undertaken by David Heckerman, senior director of the eScience group within Microsoft Research. Heckerman, an expert in machine learning, is working on the design of HIV vaccines, which requires an understanding of how the virus evolves in each individual. The next versions of the biological applications Heckerman is developing will use functions built into MBF. Heckerman's applications will continue to be made available for free download on CodePlex[RK2] .

    In keeping with the bioinformatics community's strong tradition of sharing expertise in support of ongoing discovery, I invite you to download it, use it for your work, and contribute your experience to the global research community.

    Simon Mercer, director, Health & Wellbeing, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

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